Raining in Laos

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, February 4, 2008

Luang Prabang was one of those black hole places you encounter while away - you don't want to leave but have no reason to stay. More than anything this town made life incredibly easy, so much so that we almost forgot we were traveling. Apart from the occasional tuctuc there was no traffic to be worried about, especially after a night on the LaoLao. I never once saw a policeman or any official looking person but, like everywhere else in Laos, we always felt perfectly safe. Whenever you see the police anywhere the first thing you think is 'whats going on?' After all you they don't get sent to crime less streets - they have better things to do, like eating donuts. I have never been as scared as when in Moscow where the police and army stood on every corner - I got that paranoid that I actually started feeling like an evasive CIA agent undercover infiltrating a plot to murder Litvinenko or Gurbanov.

Luang Prabang also had the greatest selection of amazing street food we have seen: one street was full of old women making huge fresh filled baguettes, another street made pancakes and fried battered bananas, and one street was chocker with people and their sizzling bbq's - we could buy sausage, buffalo, foot-long fish, whole chickens, racks on pork ribs and know it was fresh because all those animals had been spotted beside the Mekong river just moments before. Even the agonising sound of a pig being slaughtered by the river couldn't deter us from the amazing smells that wafter around the street.

After crossing China three times we vowed to stop taking stupidly long bus journeys so we broke up the 7hour journey to VangVieng by stopping in PhoKouen. This was a small town at the crossroads between the 2 major roads through the north of Laos. It was only about 1km long but this place was completely off its head. Within 15seconds of getting off the bus we were invited to a roadside party and given a room above the shenanigans. For about 3hours we tried to find out why they were having a party but only succeeded in being introduced to more and more people who wanted to forcefead us beer Laos. Everyone was connected - 'this my uncle, this my grandfather of neighbour, this sister of neighbours uncle's nephews friends dog owners auntie. The music was provided by someone on a Yamaha keyboard and whoever was sober enough to shout down the microphone. A 15 year old kept telling us this was 'the new sound of Laos house.' It sounded just like the demo button on the Tomy keyboard I had when I was six years old. However, everyone danced enthusiastically and we felt like pop stars because everyone wanted to have a boogie with the two foreigners. In between dances we would sit down to a fresh plate of food and be introduced to a further member of the community. Their hospitality was incredible and most importantly the supply of Beer Laos was endless - a very special place.

We carried on the next day to Vang Vieng. 5 years ago a friend went to Laos and came back with stories about tubing and I have dreamt about it ever since. You sit in a large rubber inner tube and float casually down a river admiring the stunning karst scenery. Sounds peaceful. Except along the river various Laos people chuck out a big piece of bamboo and pull you into their bar where you can drink yourself silly for the price of using the toilet in an English train station. Its the ultimate pub crawl - you don't even need to walk between the bars and your safe in the knowledge that however paralytic you are the current will always take you back to Vang Vieng and your bungalow by the river. In case you weren't enjoying yourself enough each bar has a huge rope swing to play with. I doubt there are many funner things to do on this planet.  

The problem with places like this is that inevitably attracts a bunch of young annoying ignorant pissed up Brits. These are the second type of people to avoid in uncomfortable situations. They are easily spotted - they always come in groups, carry 110liter backpacks full to the brim, and believe that respecting local customs involves singing "England boys we are here, shag your women drink your beer." A Polish guy we met admitted he knew immigrants who went to England to rob, steal and make a mess, but "at least we don't boast about it" he poignantly stated. These people are normally good banter for about 10minutes until Tom will introduce himself for the third time, Rob will fall of his seat and piss himself, and Gary will vomit on your leg. All this and its not even 5pm. You then go to the toilet and find "Hamshire boys tom rob gary having it large in Laos" graffiti-ed on the wall and return to find they've split you beer all over the bar. I've never understood the graffiti thing - do they honestly think people will see it and think "ah, ingenious, they've made this place look like a shit hole, what a bunch of legends! Why didn't I think of that?" All young Brits are certainly not like this but when you meet one who tags onto you your only option is to buy them a bottle of Vodka and wait for them to pass out by 8pm. Then at 1am Gary will come back to the bar asking if we have seen Rob because he went out to buy fags 3hours ago with all our money and hasn't returned. When you walk home you will see Rob and Tom walking away with lady boy prostitutes. You have been warned.

Back to Vang Vieng. We wanted to stay longer and go tubing everyday for a week but 6days ago it started raining. Not the spectacular monsoon rain but the peculiarly British kind of drizzle. It has only just stopped. Living in a wooden bungalow isn't the same when its damp so we left for Vientiane and I convinced Kerry it would be a good idea to kayak part of the way. All was well until we approached a rapid and the guy shouted "remember, always middle, not right, not left, always middle." Thats easy for you to say but when the current has forced you into a rock, spun you round and sent you careering into the rapid backwards, it was time to concentrate on praying and not steering. We were ejected and bobbed and the guide watched as two heads bobbed in and out of the water for 30metres. Shaken and bruised we waited for him to paddle towards us for the rescue. Unbelievably he just shouted "swim over there" and went off to save his precious paddle.
Its unbelievable to think that Vientiane is actually a capital city. We walked around it twice in half an hour but could only find expensive (30$) hotels where half the money your paying is for the satellite television with 76channels of Chinese soap operas. We got lucky because a Pakistani man rode past and offered us his spare room - he emigrated here 7years ago, built a huge house and doesn't know what to do with it. For 3quid a night we have a huge double room and get fed by his wife who cooks a delicious blend of Laos-Pakistani cuisine. There's not much to do in Vientiane but stand in the rain and get nostalgic of England, but we had to stay over the weekend to wait for the immigration office to open today and extend our visas. Each day we've headed to a shooting range to try out various guns before drinking some beer and going bowling. And then write this blog thats seems to be going on forever. Bye bye.
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